25 July 2014

On Immodesty, Part 2

Or, The revelation of my body is not an incitement to violence.

As I've discussed before, I was taught to fear my body. I was taught that men had uncontrollable violence in them that would lash out against me if I exposed too much of my body to them. Which, inversely, means that my male peers were taught that violence was inherent in them. And I do not believe that this teaching was just a fluke of my rural Ohio Mennonite community. The simple fact that the question "What was she wearing?" is constantly asked in response to hearing a woman was raped or assaulted is, to me, clear enough evidence of the prevalence of this teaching. And if this is what we are taught growing up, is it so surprising that violence against women is so terribly persistent in the United States?

Women's bodies incite violence and men's bodies commit violence. That is the story I was taught all my life. Men will be violent and my body (I) will be the cause of it.

If a man walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame him? There's a lot to think about with that one. What about if a woman walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame her? Yes. Nothing to think about. Just: Yes. She was asking for it. She should know better.

I wore big, baggy clothes for years. Partly because I was taught to be ashamed of my body since it wasn't photo-shopped; but also because my body was dangerous. This is the piece that I do not feel is truly understood: I was taught that my body is dangerous. I was literally afraid of it. Do you get how awful and damaging that is?

Something I've been trying to live into is the Truth that I am my body. How often do we talk about our bodies in the third person? Like it is some sort of other. In philosophy class in college, I learned about Descartes' mind - body dualism that has so influenced Western culture. His belief that mind and body are two separate entities. At first this made sense to me. I so often accused my body of doing things to me. But as I came to understand the Trinity, I also came to understand the trinity that I am: mind, body and spirit. I am three and also one. I am my body.

If my body is shameful, I am shameful. If my body is dangerous, I am dangerous. If it is my body's fault that violence is committed against me, it is my fault that violence is committed against me.

This is what we are teaching our girls: that when they are abused or harassed, it is their fault. They did something to cause this. If only they had worn a longer skirt. If only they had covered their cleavage. If only they had worn less make up. If only they hadn't been "asking for it."

But I am declaring that no matter what, it is not okay to objectify or commit violence against me. I am never "asking for it." Doesn't matter what I'm wearing or not wearing. Doesn't matter what I'm doing or not doing. Violence committed against me, whether verbal or physical,  is never, ever my fault and especially not the fault of my clothes.

If a man commits violence, that is his fault. There are no uncontrollable violent urges that are just a byproduct of his Y chromosome. We all have full agency over our actions and no right to blame others for them. I have been blamed my whole life for the thoughts and actions of males and I am done.

I will wear whatever I want whenever I want. I will honor myself and my body by doing what makes me feel good and beautiful. I will respond to harassers by telling them their behavior is unacceptable and their problem. I will teach the girls in my life that they are beautiful and violence committed against them is never their fault. I will teach the boys in my life that their thoughts and actions are their responsibility.

I need this weight off my shoulders. Women should not have to carry all this blame and shame. Our bodies are a celebration of beauty and life, not an incitement to violence.

1 comment:

  1. You nailed it, Brooke!! So true, everything you said here.